Chicago, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Some of the protestors lined up outside the Chicago Amazon Go store earlier this week talked about their injuries at Chicago Amazon warehouses.
“People try to keep up with rates because of write-ups and if you get three write-ups, you get terminated,” Shelithall Adell, 38, a former Amazon warehouse worker said during the press conference. Adell suffered from a torn rotator cuff while working in the Amazon warehouse. Three months later, she still complains about pain. “The doctor asked me how old I was. I said I was 36. He told me I had arthritis similar to a 50-year-old.”
Adell and others recently protested in front of the Amazon store to bring to light what they say is new information about increased injury rates – by some accounts, more than twice the industry average – at Amazon warehouses, especially during the holiday rush. Organized by Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), the protest centered on Amazon’s high injury rate as it works to fulfill its promise of quick package turn-around times to customers.
Both Amazon and package delivery giant United Parcel Service, or UPS, have come under fire this year for a working climate that pushes their employees to the limit – especially during the holiday shopping rush.
Investigative reports by REVEAL.org suggest that Amazon employees are injured at more than twice the industry rate.
“Reveal amassed internal injury records from 23 of the company’s 110 fulfillment centers nationwide. Taken together, the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average that year of 4,” the report said. “While a handful of centers were at or below the industry average, Reveal found that some centers, such as the Eastvale warehouse, were especially dangerous… Its rate of serious injuries – those requiring job restrictions or days off work – was more than four times the industry average.”
WWJ’s own report found that Amazon’s Total Recordable Injury rate was 10.76 per 100 workers, which is three times higher than the injury rate across all private employers (2.8 recordable injuries per 100 workers). The group also said it found that nearly 90 percent of all Amazon employees who were injured on the job had to miss work or be placed on restricted duty. OSHA logs show that on average, injured workers missed an average of 5 and a ½ weeks of work in recovery.
And records show that injury rates climb during the holiday season, with the period between Black Friday and Christmas having injury rates 2.5 times the company’s annual average.
“The holidays are about family, yet too often Amazon’s unsafe and unethical business practices in Chicagoland warehouses result in tragic accidents that hurt working families throughout our community,” Roberto Jesus, associate director of WWJ said in a statement. “The injuries occurring at Amazon warehouses are dangerously high, especially at the automated facilities. Eleven out of 100 workers injured at the MDW7 automated facility, with 88 percent of those hurt missing time or made to do light duty. Those numbers are too high and Amazon needs to take action to protect workers’ safety.”
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.
At UPS facilities across the country, employees report that the employees are gripped in a “culture of fear” that prevents employees from reporting on violations of workplace safety, for fear of losing their jobs.
According to a report in Bloomberg Law, more than 40 federal and state cases against the company allege managers discouraged the filing of injury reports. After a story detailing the death of a worker at a UPS facility ran earlier this year, Bloomberg said numerous employees contacted the publication saying their concerns about workplace safety violations went unheeded and managers threatened employees with termination if they reported any on the job injuries.
One California Superior Court case, filed by former UPS sorter and unloader Shaun Medina, outlined concerns over the company’s processes.
In his complaint, Medina said his shoulder was injured on the job as he was unloading 80-pound packages from a truck. When he went to his safety supervisor to file a report, he was told to drink some tea and get back to work. The safety supervisor, he said, did not want to file the report saying “it was costly on UPS to do anything else for him.”
Medina, the complaint said, asked the company for months to let him see a doctor. When the company agreed, he was sent to a company-authorized provider who placed him on restricted lifting – no more than 20-pounds.
The lawsuit claims supervisors ignored the doctor’s restrictions and made him work with the injury, and threatened him with termination if he didn’t.
In response, UPS filed a response that denies all the allegations made by Medina and said “it will vigorously defend the company.”
Amazon is one of UPS’s biggest customers. But it is also one of its biggest competitors. Using gig workers, contractors and other non-employees, Amazon is able to deliver some of its own packages at lower prices because those workers have fewer protections – protections UPS must provide to its own employees.
Michael Duff, a workers’ compensation professor at the University of Wyoming, told Bloomberg Law that companies sometimes try to avoid costly claims.
“It’s a repetitive expense. It’s a major cost of doing business because of the magnitude of the insurance payment,” Duff said, according to Bloomberg. “Then there’s the obvious part – that your premium is experience-rated, right? The more injuries you have, the higher your premium goes.”
UPS employs more than 399,000 workers and delivers more than 20 million packages a day, according to industry analysts. That number is expected to increase to as much at 30 million packages a day over the holidays, according to a statement by Jim Barber, UPS Chief Operating Officer, earlier this year, when the company announced it would be hiring 100,000 more employees this holiday season to handle what it projected would be a record-setting season.